Like clockwork each year, as the holiday season nears, Deacon Joe Krysiak starts getting inquiries. "People say, 'When are the turkeys coming?'" he says.
His church, St. Anthony of Padua in Baltimore, has maintained a long tradition of handing out turkey dinners for both the Thanksgiving and December festivities. Families in need, many from the church's surrounding neighborhood of Frankford, sign up for the meals on a waitlist.
"The word gets around," says Krysiak, who's coordinated the program at his church since 2001. "We take names, and we try to accommodate everybody we can."
The turkey program is also a long-running tradition for Johns Hopkins University, which gathers donations from staff to purchase the turkeys, along with potatoes and greens, from Richardson Farms. (For information on how to donate, see below.)
These partnerships trace back to Vernon Rice, a JHU mechanic who was an active volunteer at St. Anthony and started a food pantry at the church. His holiday meal effort evolved from that, and by the early 1990s, Rice worked to get Johns Hopkins, his employer, on board.
Rice worked 25 years at the university, maintaining the vehicle fleet on the Homewood campus. After his death, his charity effort was named the Vernon Rice Memorial Holiday Turkey Program.
"Even though we lost Vernon in December of 2001, the university continues to provide turkeys to those in need for Thanksgiving, in honor of the man who began this tradition," write Sam and Cindy Rice, Vernon's son and daughter-in-law, via email. (Sam Rice also worked for many years at Hopkins, as an HVAC technician.)
In addition to purchasing the food, Johns Hopkins is in charge of delivering it to the church. For the past five years or so, the Facilities and Real Estate Office has taken charge of that, dispatching volunteers and a box truck to pick up the turkeys and accompaniments from Richardson Farms' outpost at Northeast Market, near the university's East Baltimore campus.
"It's a feel-good exercise," says Robert Libby, HR manager of that office. "Vernon Rice was one of our staff, and so was his son."
At St. Anthony of Padua, volunteers from the church take over and package the meals into bags, handing them out to families that line up a day or two later.
Last year, the Vernon Rice Memorial Turkey Program raised more than $9,500 in donations from Johns Hopkins, supplying Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to about 400 families, according to Greg Burks, community programs specialist at Johns Hopkins.
"The turkey drive has made the holidays brighter for thousands of local families over the years," Burks says. "This program is just one of many ways that the Hopkins community has continually displayed its commitment to Baltimore by helping those around us in need."
To participate in this season's turkey program, Hopkins employees can use their credit or debit card by clicking the Donate button under the Vernon Rice Memorial Turkey Program tab on the Benefits & Worklife website. Donations should be received by Monday, Nov. 18, for the Thanksgiving holidays and Friday, Dec. 13, for the December holidays.
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